What has the committee been doing
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement (PJC-LE) is a committee with members from both Houses of Parliament, tasked with overseeing the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
Together with other oversight processes, including Senate Estimates, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Auditor-General, the committee monitors the performance of the ACC and AFP, and reports its findings to Parliament.
In addition, the committee can also initiate inquiries into law enforcement issues relating to the work of the ACC and AFP.
History of the committee
The committee began life as the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority (NCA) in 1984. It was established to:
Monitor and review the performance by the NCA of its functions and to report to both Houses of Parliament upon any matter appertaining to the Authority or any change which the Committee thinks desirable to the functions, structure, powers and procedures of the Authority.
In addition, it had a duty to examine the NCA's annual report, examine trends and changes in criminal activities, practices and methods and inquire into issues referred to it by the Parliament. These duties have largely remained unchanged, although the agencies under the committee's jurisdiction have.
The NCA, and its successor, the ACC, were endowed with unique investigation powers, in order to combat serious and organised crime. In part, the committee was established to protect individuals from the abuse of these coercive powers, and for the committee to be a vehicle for the receipt of complaints about the agency. The committee's role has since been clarified over 25 years of operation, with complaints handling since taken on by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
Early work of the committee
Provision of information to the committee
The committee's earliest reports describe its difficulty in establishing an appropriate working relationship with the NCA. Specifically, it found itself:
unable to fulfil its statutory duty to the parliament because it [did] not have – and [was] unable to obtain from the NCA – sufficient information of substance to serve as a basis for the monitoring and review role required of it.
The committee's first report saw no point to the committee continuing its operation, lest it become a 'charade', providing the appearance but not the substance of Parliamentary oversight.
This led the Special Minister of State of the day to convene a meeting between the NCA and the committee to attempt to resolve the impasse, at which the NCA agreed to prepare a comprehensive briefing on its operations for the committee. This allowed the committee to develop a better view of the NCA's work, without seeking sensitive operational details.
This issue, the trade-off between the committee's ability to oversee an agency effectively, with the need to protect sensitive operations, has been a perennial one for the committee.
A leading role in the development of the NCA
Having been established to monitor and review the NCA, the committee took a leading role in the development of that agency. The 1984 Act that established the NCA included a sunset clause that would have seen the agency terminated in 1988 if it was not performing. The committee recommended that, on the strength of the NCA's performance to date, that clause be removed, which it was, allowing the NCA to continue its work.
Over the next decade, the committee continued to monitor the performance of the NCA, making recommendations in a number of areas to improve the effectiveness of the agency, or to fulfil its duty of oversight. These included:
- witness protection;
- funding for telecommunications interception;
- provision for an Inspector-General for the NCA to investigate complaints;
- intelligence sharing between national security and law enforcement agencies;
- the relationship and division of labour between the NCA, police forces and the then Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence;
- the introduction of performance measures in the NCA's annual reporting; and
- the development of controlled operations legislation.
In addition, the committee began to inquire into areas of crime policy, including:
While not all of the committee's recommendations were accepted by the government, the committee exercised significant influence over the development of the NCA.
Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission
With the establishment of the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) in 2002, replacing the NCA, the committee was given responsibility to oversee the new agency, changing its name to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission.
The Australian Crime Commission brought together the functions of the NCA, the Office of Strategic Assessments and the Australian Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and was tasked with enhancing Australia's national law enforcement capacity through:
- improved criminal intelligence collection and analysis;
- setting clear national criminal intelligence priorities; and
- conducting intelligence led investigations of criminal activity of national significance, including the conduct and/or coordination of investigative and intelligence task forces.
The committee was involved in shaping the establishment of the ACC, making a series of recommendations that were accepted by government and remain in place today. These include:
- The role of the ACC Board and the governance structure;
- Preservation of the CEO's independence from the Minister of the day;
- A statutory role for the Ombudsman in investigating complaints against the agency.
- The addition of the Commissioner of Taxation to the ACC Board;
- Further safeguards for the use of coercive powers; and
- Enhanced record keeping to ensure accountability of coercive examinations, and a number of other legal and administrative reforms.
In addition, the committee continued to conduct reference inquiries into matters of serious and organised crime, covering topics including:
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement
In November 2010, the committee became the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement. In addition to its historical oversight of the ACC (and NCA), the committee is also now responsible for overseeing the Australian Federal Police.
In practice, the committee has long been familiar with the AFP through its various inquiries into serious and organised crime. Nevertheless, any new oversight relationship takes time to develop, as was true of the NCA back in the 1980s.
The committee's current functions are as follows:
(a) to monitor and to review the performance by the ACC and AFP of their functions;
(b) to report to both Houses of the Parliament upon any matter relating to the ACC or AFP or connected with the performance of their functions;
(c) to examine each annual report on the ACC and AFP and report to the Parliament on any matter arising;
(d) to examine trends and changes in criminal activities, practices and methods and report to both Houses of the Parliament any change which the Committee thinks desirable to the functions, structure, powers and procedures of the ACC or the AFP; and
(e) to inquire into any question in connection with its functions which is referred to it by either House of the Parliament, and to report to that House upon that question.
However, in carrying out these functions, the committee is precluded from doing the following:
(a) undertaking an intelligence operation or investigating a matter relating to a relevant criminal activity; or
(b) reconsidering the findings of the ACC in relation to a particular ACC operation/investigation (including an ACC operation/investigation that has been concluded); or
(c) reviewing sensitive operational information or operational methods available to the ACC or the AFP; or
(d) reviewing particular operations or investigations that have been, are being or are proposed to be undertaken by the ACC or the AFP; or
(e) reviewing information provided by, or by an agency of, a foreign government where that government does not consent to the disclosure of the information; or
(f) conducting inquiries into individual complaints about the activities of the ACC or the AFP.
As can be seen from the committee's history, it has conducted a number of inquiries into serious and organised crime issues. Two recent inquiries include:
The adequacy of aviation and maritime security measures to combat serious and organised crime.
In June 2011, the committee tabled a significant report into the state of Australia's aviation and maritime security. It found that while the policy response to September 11 had resulted in security measures to prevent terrorist attacks on these transport sectors, more needed to be done to prevent the infiltration and exploitation of the nation's airports, ports and associated infrastructure by organised criminal networks.
The committee found that a key driver for this criminal activity continues to be the lucrative profits made from the importation of illicit drugs in their final form or as precursor chemicals. This lucrative trade corrupts the same air and sea trade routes used by legitimate commerce.
In addition to the drug trade, the committee heard that the range of serious criminal activity includes, among other things, money laundering, tobacco smuggling, counterfeiting and the illegal trade in flora and fauna.
Current efforts to ensure the integrity of the work force in the aviation and maritime sectors are not adequate. The committee recommended that the security regime be extended to defend against the threat of organised crime, including strengthening of the Aviation and Maritime Security Identification Card schemes, with the ability to revoke security passes on the strength of compelling criminal intelligence.
The committee was encouraged by the development of joint-agency taskforces in a number of states, and recommended this be emulated in all jurisdictions, together with a national flying squad to direct a joint-agency response to trouble spots.
Importantly, the committee also recommended a number of enhancements to the air passenger environment to counter organised crime figures who are currently able to travel under false identities with impunity, facilitating criminal activity. This and other recommendations were made after consultation with a number of state and federal police agencies.
Legislative arrangements to outlaw serious and organised crime groups
Over the course of 17 months, the committee examined a range of national and international legislative approaches to serious and organised crime as part of its inquiry into the legislative arrangements to outlaw serious and organised crime groups. In the course of the inquiry, the committee heard from a range of witnesses, including members of the Bandidos and Hells Angels motorcycle clubs.
The report, tabled in August 2009, considered South Australian legislation, the Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Act 2008, which was developed, in part, to address the issue of outlaw motorcycle groups (OMCGs) in that state, and the NSW legislation which was developed in response to the murder of an OMCG member at Sydney airport in March 2009.
The committee found that while there is obvious political and public appeal to anti- association type legislation, these may ultimately not be the most effective approach to targeting criminal groups.
Rather, the committee heard repeatedly, from almost every law enforcement agency with which it met, that one of the most effective ways of preventing organised crime is by 'following the money trail'.
This included a committee delegation to Canada, the United States, Italy, Austria, the united Kingdom and the Netherlands in 2009. The committee met with almost 30 separate agencies on this trip, including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency, the London Metropolitan Police and Europol. Reflecting on the lessons of that trip, the then Chair, wrote:
Drugs, illegal firearms, human trafficking – the top three criminal activities in the world. How do we contain them? How do we stop people endangering their lives by ingesting chemicals with their ice water in nightclubs? How do we stop young men using weapons, the effects of which they barely understand? How do we stop people being forced to labour in fields or brothels after being sold into slavery?
Our delegation was told time and time again in each jurisdiction we visited, that crime is functional and dynamic in perspective. It is a business, conducted on a business model, with national and international networks and hierarchies and hubs.
This means that each level of society can and has been infiltrated by organised crime. It is a cancer - active everyday and efficient enough to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.
Committee members heard repeatedly of the value of restraining criminal assets and targeting unexplained wealth to deprive serious criminal figures of the thing that mattered to them most: money.
The committee's report concluded with seven recommendations, which contributed to the Commonwealth enacting unexplained wealth provisions in 2010.
Inquiry into unexplained wealth
The experience of the committee during its 2009 inquiry, relating to the importance of following the criminal money trail, has led the committee to re-examine the Commonwealth's unexplained wealth provisions through an inquiry that commenced in July 2011.
 Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, The National Crime Authority – an initial evaluation, 1988, p. 1.
 Senator Don Chipp, Senate Hansard, 6 June 1984, p. 2649.
 Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, Second Report, 1986, p. 2.
 Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, Second Report, 1986, p. 3.
 Senator Stephen Hutchins, PJC-LE, Foreword, Report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Canada, the United States, Italy, Austria, the United Kingdom & the Netherlands, June 2009.